Allegations of Land Grabbing Surface Against KISS Founder Achyuta Samanta

Accusations of Habitual Land Grabbing

·       Government Intervention and Land Transfer Suspension

·       NGT in 2017 ordered the government to reclaim 10 acres of land from KISS

·       Political Implications and Questions of Misuse of Power

·       No official response from KISS, Achyuta Samanta or the BJD

Recent allegations have cast a spotlight on Achyuta Samanta, founder of the Kalinga Institute of Social Science (KISS) and former BJD MP, regarding claims of land grabbing. This development follows directives from the Indian government to halt the transfer of forest land to KISS, leading to a wider investigation into Samanta’s activities and raising questions about potential misuse of power.

The controversy began when the Ministry of Tribal Affairs directed the Khordha Collector and Odisha Chief Secretary to suspend the process of transferring 4.032 hectares of forest land to KISS, located within the Chandaka Wildlife Division. This land was earmarked for expanding educational facilities for tribal students. However, concerns regarding the compliance with the Forest Rights Act (FRA) led to the suspension. The Ministry emphasized that the land transfer should be paused until further clarifications and formal approvals were secured from the Ministry of Tribal Affairs.

This intervention comes amidst ongoing accusations that KISS has been involved in the illegal encroachment of forest lands. The Khordha Collector, Chanchal Rana, acknowledged the receipt of the Ministry’s directive and confirmed that the situation is under review.

The allegations against Samanta are not new. RTI activist Pradeep Pradhan and environmentalist Prafulla Samantaray have accused him of consistently encroaching on lands by submitting false affidavits.  Environmental concerns have also been raised, with Samantaray criticizing the state government’s past inaction and calling for a thorough review of previous violations.

The legal history surrounding KISS’s land dealings further complicates the situation. Advocate Shankar Pani pointed out that in 2011, KISS was served a notice to vacate land, and a penalty was imposed for the encroachment. Although KISS claimed to have surrendered some land in 2016, Pani alleged that illegal activities continued on the remaining land. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2017 ordered the government to reclaim 10 acres of land from KISS and restore it to its natural state by planting trees. Despite this, there has been a lack of enforcement by the government, raising questions about possible complicity and inaction by senior officials.

The allegations against Samanta extend beyond legal and environmental concerns, touching on potential misuse of political power. Critics suggest that Samanta may have exploited his position as a BJD MP to facilitate land acquisitions under the guise of expanding educational facilities for tribal students. This has led to further scrutiny of the BJD’s role and the potential involvement of other senior officials in these activities.

BJP leader Babu Singh commented on the matter, asserting that the state government would not shield anyone found guilty of illegal activities, regardless of their position.

Despite the serious allegations, there has been no official response from Achyuta Samanta or the BJD. KISS’s Chief PRO, Shradhanjali Nayak, stated that no official letter had been received concerning the allegations.

As investigations continue, the situation underscores the critical need for transparency and accountability in land dealings, particularly those involving educational institutions and forest conservation efforts. The outcome of these investigations will likely have significant implications for the future governance and oversight of such activities in Odisha.

(With inputs from agencies)

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